"Ales is probably the smoothest player in the league today when he's got the puck...when he's stickhandling, nobody's close. You had Gretzky here, now you've got this guy."- Joe Sakic on Ales Hemsky
Normally I don't put much stock in comments from a guy who maimed himself in a one man snowblower accident, but I'll cut Joey some slack. Plus, he's right. You see, this is Ales Hemsky, he plays for my team. You wish he played for your team.
He's just different. It's the way he moves - the composure, self-assuredness, and that rare dynamic quality that brings an expectation that something is going to happen every time he touches the puck. But it's more than that.
You hear a lot of broadcasters or fans say a player is "a joy to watch." Usually that's applied to a guy who scores a lot of goals or does things at a high level, without regard to the WAY they do it. Ales Hemsky is a joy to watch aesthetically. If Hemsky never scored a goal - and believe me, there used to be many nights when you thought he was intentionally trying not to - he would still be worth watching. There's a rhythm to his game, a fluidity of motion, that's unlike anyone else in hockey. Nearly every Hemsky goal, even a wrist shot from the slot, is "highlight reel" quality, because of the buildup to it and the grace with which he does it. I'll admit it, I've thought about what his lips would feel like, pressed against mine. Don't judge me.
For all you non-Oiler fans, if I could compare Hemsky to another player it would be Johan Cruijff. You know, the great Dutch footballer of the 1970's? (At this point, Greener is fuming, because not only am I not waxing poetic about him, I'm now talking about football...and not calling it soccer).
Cruijff was the most elegant of athletes, a near perfect blend of speed, quickness, balance and agility, complimented by a limitless footballing I.Q. The great Rudolf Nureyev was fascinated by his movements and loved to watch videos of Cruijff playing. Nureyev's assistant once hypothesized that it was because Nureyev thought Cruijff would be a better dancer than the legend himself. Cruijff and Hemsky share that same balletic quality. They almost look out of place playing a sport.
With Hemsky it's those three crossovers in the neutral zone gearing up to top speed, the shoulder drop to freeze the d-man, the half push-off (in lieu of a full stride) that kicks him clear when turning the corner, and his puck control in traffic while under pressure. Put it all in one package with innate hockey sense, vision, and fearlessness, and you have a very special player.
Hemsky used to be a "potential" guy, the prettiest 15 goal, 70 point scorer in the league. This year he's taken his game to a new level and become the unquestioned leader of this team. It's not just aesthetics anymore. In the next four years (the time Hemsky has remaining on his current contract), Ales Hemsky's play will determine the success of the Oilers. If Shawn Horcoff and Dustin Penner live up to their fat contracts it will be because of Ales Hemsky. If the Oilers are going to win a Stanley Cup, it will likely come during that period as Hemsky begins his prime and graduates to elite status.
Others may be better, but no one is better to watch.